TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Moments after a near-nightmare of a second period in Monday’s 73-66 loss to Notre Dame, Sue Semrau led the Florida State women’s basketball team into the locker room at halftime and didn’t say anything particularly memorable.
She didn’t have to.
“We knew what we did wrong,” sophomore forward Shakayla Thomas said. “So when Coach Sue came in we were like ‘Oh, we knew that already,’ and we knew what we needed to come out and do.”
Then they went out and did it. Although it didn’t change the outcome, the Seminoles played a strong second half and stood toe-to-toe with the No. 2 team in the country through the final buzzer.
After trailing by as many as 19 points in the second period, FSU trimmed its deficit to just seven early in the fourth.
Although an unusually cold shooting night (FSU shot 38.1 percent for the game, nearly seven points below its season average) kept the Seminoles from completing the rally, FSU outscored the Irish in both the third and fourth periods while scoring more points in the paint, committing fewer turnovers and holding its own on the glass.
“Obviously we’re not happy about the loss but I’m happy with our bounce-back from a game that we thought that we just weren’t a good basketball team,” Semrau said. “We showed a lot of grit, a lot of fight.”
The second half was littered with little details that make a coach smile but don’t necessarily show up in the box score.
Like the way junior forward Ivey Slaughter ran down nearly every 50-50 ball that came her way.
Or the way junior guard Leticia Romero broke out of a tentative stretch and reemerged as an aggressive, attacking player.
More than anything, though, Semrau liked how, perhaps for the first time this season, she saw her team fully commit to each other and fight back against difficult odds.
At 21-6 on this season, the Seminoles aren’t exactly in good practice when it comes to losing. But each of those five previous losses came by at least 10 points.
This one easily could have, had the Seminoles not turned the tide during the final 20 minutes.
Instead, FSU rallied together, cleaned up some sloppy details and put a brief scare into one of the country’s elite teams.
Seeing what they could do when fully committed to each other, even in a loss, left a lasting impression in the locker room.
“I trusted my team before, but now it’s all-out trust,” Thomas said. “We came closer in this game than we did any other game.”
It’s easy for a line like that to come off as lip service after a tough loss.
But, “I totally saw it,” Semrau said. “There’s a risk to putting it all out there and failing. And I feel like with this team, they haven’t done that for each other until tonight. And when they did it, and they saw what could happen … I think that’s what (Thomas) talked about. That trust.”
If FSU can take what it put together in the second half on Monday and build on it moving forward, then a loss to Notre Dame could be a relatively small price to pay for the benefits that come in March.
“As long as it continues,” Semrau said.
The Seminoles wrap up their regular season with a visit to NC State on Thursday then a home date against Miami on Sunday afternoon.
Then it’s on to the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., where a rematch against the Fighting Irish could be on deck.
“I feel like this year we’ll sort of have a little chip on our shoulder, knowing we were so close to beating them and knowing that we can beat them,” Slaughter said. “We just have to play four quarters straight.”
Despite having lost two straight games for the first time in two years, the Seminoles are still in the midst of a very good season.
They’re a virtual lock to make the NCAA tournament and are in the mix to host the first and second rounds for a second straight year.
Although repeating last year’s success may be a tall order – FSU fell just seconds short of a Final Four appearance last March – Semrau believes she’s got a better team today than she did the day before.
And if they keep growing and keep improving, the Seminoles might have a second-half surge against Notre Dame to thank for it.
“We’re growing toward March,” Semrau said. That’s when we need to be our best. It’s not football, (where) you lose one and it’s like, ‘Oh, we can’t go to the national championship game.’
“We can get hot at any time. And so I’m excited about the growth of this team and who were tonight and who we’re going to be going forward.”